- Drivers of homelessness
- Support for a new approach
- Goals and targets
- Reform of Services
- A national homelessness research agenda
- Partnerships for the future
Which Way Home: A New Approach to Homelessness
Reducing homelessness is a national priority for the Australian Government.
In January 2008 the Prime Minister, the Hon Kevin Rudd MP and the former Minister for Housing, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, announced the Government's intention to tackle homelessness in Australia through the development of a comprehensive, long-term plan.
In May 2008 the Government released a Green Paper on Homelessness Which Way Home? which sought to promote public discussion on homelessness, highlight the challenges faced by people who are homeless and suggest ways forward for reducing homelessness over the long term.
Public consultations were held during May and June 2008.
Over 1,200 people attended 13 public consultations across Australia and almost 600 written submissions were received. Public consultations included the views of over 300 homeless people.
This report summarises the feedback on the Green Paper from stakeholders including state and territory governments, people experiencing homelessness, service providers, peak bodies, academics and individuals.
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Submissions confirmed that mental illness, domestic violence, family breakdown, drug and alcohol addiction, unemployment, financial stress, locational disadvantage and gambling remain amongst the leading drivers of homelessness.
Other issues are also driving increased rates of homelessness including the lack of affordable housing nationally, the inability of Australia's existing homelessness services to meet demand, a sometimes uncoordinated and inconsistent response to homelessness and the uneven spread of homelessness services across the country. A lack of community awareness and commitment to addressing homelessness was also frequently raised during the consultations.
All submissions highlighted the interplay between housing and homelessness. They suggested that over the last decade, the growth in public and community housing has been limited and funding for the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) has not increased to meet the needs of homeless Australians. Declining housing affordability for low income families and the tight rental market were consistently mentioned in submissions and consultations as impacting on homelessness.
Submissions to the Green Paper strongly argued that the high levels of homelessness should not be attributed to the failure of homelessness services.
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There was strong agreement at public consultations and in submissions that Australia's current response to homelessness needs marked improvement.
Overall, submissions urged the Government to develop a new approach which focuses more strongly on prevention and early intervention, provides support for homeless Australians that leads to increased economic and social participation, encourages closer collaboration between homeless and mainstream services and reforms the role of crisis services.
Safe, affordable housing with appropriate support services are crucial for reducing homelessness and to achieving sustainable outcomes for homeless Australians.
There was strong support for a whole-of-government approach which could be achieved through a comprehensive national action plan. This plan would recognise the complexity of homelessness and address the needs of different groups within the homeless population - families with children, young people, older homeless adults and women and children leaving domestic violence. Submissions called for responses to Indigenous homelessness be incorporated into the overall response to addressing their disadvantage.
Goals and targets were seen as critical to ensuring that real progress on reducing homelessness would be made over the next decade. Many submissions suggested that any national plan to reduce homelessness should have high level goals to focus action and set directions, and include targets to address the needs of particular groups within the homeless population including people with mental illness, young people, those leaving statutory care or prison and Indigenous Australians.
Submissions argued for targets which improve client outcomes and increase social and economic participation. A consistent message through the consultation process was that all levels of government and the general community need to commit to reducing homelessness.
Goals and targets need to be ambitious but achievable in order to ensure accountability. While some submissions argued for an aspirational goal of ending homelessness (particularly chronic or primary homelessness), most submissions proposed more modest goals to reduce homelessness over the life of national plan.
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The 10 principles proposed in the Green Paper were strongly supported. Submissions supported the need for the new approach to be guided by such principles as national commitment and strong leadership, prevention, dignity and respect for everyone. Some submissions argued for a human rights-based approach to homelessness. More commonly, submissions argued that an approach based on social inclusion should drive efforts to assist homeless Australians.
Crisis services need to be reformed, better resourced and expanded - with a particular focus on early intervention, improved service quality and better collaboration with mainstream services. Investing in workforce development and career progression within homeless services were also seen as crucial reforms.
Many submissions argued for a need for substantial reform to deliver a more comprehensive service to homeless Australians. A number of submissions pointed to the need for national improvements to accreditation and service standards for homelessness services to drive higher quality services and improved outcomes for homeless people.
The failure of mainstream services (such as income support, employment, education and training, health, justice, aged care and migrant settlement services) to respond adequately to homeless Australians was frequently raised throughout the consultation period.
Mainstream services are crucial to reducing and preventing homelessness and providing flexible and targeted support to homeless Australians.
Submissions identified the need for mainstream services to remove barriers to service provision for homeless people, address gaps in service delivery, and work in a more integrated way with homeless services.
Many non-government organisations described successful integrated service models which have resulted in better coordination of homeless and mainstream services for the benefit of homeless people.
There was strong support for expanding early intervention and prevention programs that can reconnect young people to their families, education and employment, or provide housing support and advice to those whose tenancies are at risk.
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Many submissions argued for services to become more client-centred (with services 'wrapped around' the client) and outcome-focussed. 'One size does not fit all' was frequently stated in the submissions, with many arguing that a national action plan to reduce homelessness should recognise the specific needs of individuals. Tailored service delivery that provides housing with support was frequently proposed as a way forward.
Many submissions argued that the National Affordable Housing Agreement should incorporate a reduction in homelessness as a specific goal and that any plan to reduce homelessness should be tied to broader Government service delivery reforms. Some submissions also suggested that the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) was the most effective mechanism to bring about nationally consistent service delivery reform.
There was strong support in submissions for a national research agenda. Research priorities nominated included longitudinal studies on individual and structural drivers of homelessness, cost/benefit analyses of homelessness interventions and research evaluating best practice and innovative service models.
Submissions argued that improved data collection is essential for reliable and accurate measurement of the Government's achievement against goals and targets to reduce homelessness.
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The Government's social inclusion agenda was seen as a positive platform for helping to raise the profile of the issue of homelessness and leverage business support in the response to it. Suggestions for business support included projects to increase housing stock, provision of training and employment opportunities, and developing partnerships with homelessness services - particularly at the local level.
The need to increase community awareness and understanding of homelessness, and involvement in homelessness initiatives was commonly cited in submissions. Suggestions called for national community education campaigns to address negative attitudes towards and stereotypes of homeless people and to foster community and business support for those experiencing or at risk of homelessness.